ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — A long awaited Mental Health Court is being launched as a pilot program in Albany County. The program’s goal is to help people suffering with mental health issues who are low-level offenders rather than putting them in jail.

The court took five years to develop.

“We had to take a step back and say, ‘Hey, this isn’t working. So let’s try a new approach,'” said Albany County Executive Dan McCoy.

McCoy made the announcement Friday morning. The effort is a collaboration of several different agencies.

“We took this journey on in 2016 and we talked about how do you change the outcome in people’s lives? And a lot of that goes into our equity agenda,” McCoy said.

The program is meant to give people suffering from mental health issues a chance at probationary alternatives such as rehab and counseling.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘Why is it [jail is] the only place that someone with mental health issues can actually receive the assistance that they need. It falls in the criminal justice system,” said Albany County District Attorney David Soares.

Soares said they’re limiting participation in the program to about 15 people to gauge its effectiveness.

“Success is watching a person who is just getting back on that path … managing their mental health issues,” Soares said.

The program comes as New York State’s Office of Mental Health released data from the past three years which found inmates at state correctional facilities with mental health needs have increased 15 percent.

“We’re at the infancy stages now, but hopefully we’ll develop a much more comprehensive response to those suffering from challenges in their lives,” Soares said.